An opera for those who love as well as for those who hate opera, The Curious Affair of the Count of Monte Blotto takes pleasure in poking fun at nearly everything — including opera. Outrageous and biting in its wit and badinage, it is a humorous pastiche of everything schmaltzy in the operatic genre and is arguably the funniest opera ever written. Highly accessible (yet at times abstruse), the work is certain to have the audience befuddled if not utterly benumbed by the final curtain.
Self-described as a “chamber-pot opéra gouffre in three pointless acts,” Monte Blotto features four principal singers and 13 secondary roles (including one silent) that could be filled by members of the chorus. It is scored for 2 flutes/piccolo, oboe/English horn, Bb clarinet, bassoon, piano/harpsichord, harp, strings, mandolin, and percussion. The music is tonal and largely traditional opera fare, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. The Curious Affair of the Count of Monte Blotto is dedicated to Dr. Gerald Moore, former professor of music theory at Lipscomb University.
The rather convoluted history of this work is perhaps best told in the composer’s own words:
“In 1973, while I was an undergradate student at David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University), I was asked by my theory professor, Dr. Gerald Moore, to compose an opera for the music department in the style of P.D.Q. Bach. Although I decided not to attempt to emulate the inimitable style of Schickele’s alter ego since many others had attempted to do so with less than satisfactory results, I thought the idea of composing a comic opera was a great challenge. A friend of mine (J.F. Guin, III) came up with a libretto, and I set to work on the score with great aplomb.
“Over the next few months I poured all of my limited creative talents into sketching the opening scene, and finally showed my work to the baritone who was slated to play the role of the heroine’s father. After playing the piano score for him, he hesitantly said to me, ‘They’ll never be able to sing it.’ As he was more aware than I of the capabilities of our stable of singers, I concluded that this attempt was going nowhere. That fact took the wind out of my sails, and I shelved the project for the rest of my college career.
“During the course of the next couple of decades I would occasionally look over the score and sketch a new aria here and there. But with no prospect of a performance, I never devoted myself to the work very assiduously.
“Sometime in the early 1990s I decided to thoroughly rework the libretto and again sketched a few more short segments, but as I was by that time married with children, life intervened to limit any profitable contribution toward this project. The opera again resumed its seemingly rightful place gathering dust on my bookshelf.
“Earlier this year , after having completed the opera Inanna the year before and writing two other works that were somewhat dark and depressing, I came across the mass of material and began playing around with it again just to help put myself in a better mood. Intending to work on it only until a new libretto came my way, I ended up being consumed with the prospect of actually fulfilling my promise to my former theory teacher, despite the fact that the assignment would be turned in 30 years late.
“I decided to score the work for a chamber ensemble (though still a tad large) and only four principal singers. While there are no less than thirteen supporting roles, they may be filled by singers who double in the chorus. Several venues which had expressed some interest in Inanna elected to reject the score because of its large personnel requirements, so I was hopeful that a smaller ensemble may find Monte Blotto to fit their needs more effectively.
“As for its description as a ‘chamber-pot opéra gouffre,’ this terminology was chosen because there were heretofore three principal types of opera: opéra seria, or serious opera; opéra comique, which is typically somewhat lighthearted; and opéra bouffe, which is clearly comic opera. Monte Blotto goes one step beyond opéra bouffe. As gouffre is French for ‘abyss,’ I suppose one could say this opera steps off the stage and into an operatic abyss. And regarding the descriptor ‘chamber-pot’ — just consider what normally is held in a chamber pot and I think you will have a comprehensive understanding of just what Monte Blotto is.”
Final work on the opera was begun in the summer of 2004, and the score was completed on 6 October 2004.
2 flutes (1 doubling on piccolo), oboe (doubling on English horn), Bb clarinet, bassoon
Harp, piano, harpsichord (an electronic keyboard could substitute for piano/harpsichord if necessary)
Violins I & II (including solo violin), violas, violoncellos, double basses
Percussion battery: timpani, bass drum, tenor drum, woodblock, cymbals, triangle, ratchet, whistle, slapstick, tubular bells
Total performance time is approximately 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Copies of the orchestral score are available for review on request. Total length: 893 pages.
The complete libretto may be viewed online (see below).
Monte Blotto is designed to be a low-budget opera and makes no pretensions otherwise. Because of allusions to other operas in the libretto, it would be entirely appropriate to borrow costumes and sets from other productions with only modest modifications. Juxtaposing anachronistic elements also is acceptable (for instance, using a modified Hansel and Gretel set with a bridge from Madama Butterfly for Tolkien Jew’s hut scene would add to the humor.) Outside of the four principals, the other roles may “borrow” chorus members for their parts. Costuming for the Three Musketeers and Brünhilde, of course, are ready-made for borrowed roles.
Eggarol Severe (The heroine) — Soprano
Peter Aereophagus (A miner) — Tenor
Boniface Severe (Father of Eggarol) — Baritone
Count Dewayne de Monte Blotto (Eggarol’s betrothed) — Baritone
Tolkien Jew (A wizard cum chemist cum rabbi) — Tenor
Dr. Chicano (A physician and rake) — Tenor
Nurse Provocadora (Dr. Chicano’s assistant) — Mezzo-soprano
Priest (A priest ... duh) — Bass
Athos (Musketeer/Nightwatchman) — Tenor
Porthos (Musketeer) — Tenor
Aramis (Musketeer/Nightwatchman) — Bass
Gnome (A gnome) — Baritone
Brünhilde (Wagnerian Viking lady) — Soprano
Grim Reaper (Himself) — Bass
Two Maids (Eggarol’s servants) — Mezzo-sopranos
Willoughs (The butler) — Non-singing role
Wedding Guests — SATB chorus
Boniface Severe. The father of Eggarol and Peter’s employer. A gentleman of middle age and well-to-do. He is at times a decent father who has indulged his only daughter, but who is devious enough that he has no second thoughts about arranging an ill-conceived marriage between her and the prodigal son of the local count in order to save his mine, which is on the verge of financial ruin. When his plan is foiled, he becomes thoroughly evil, seeking only vengeance against the upstart Peter.
Eggarol Severe. The daughter of Boniface. A young lass in her early twenties, flighty and a bit of an airhead. A typical lady in distress. Initially she sees Peter only as a useful tool to avoid marriage to Dewayne, but after the wedding night she finds that she truly loves him.
Peter Aereophagus. An employee of Boniface who works in the mine, and the object of Eggarol’s attention. Of somewhat small stature, he is content to remain a lonely, disillusioned widower. Feeling he can never love again, he rebuffs Eggarol’s attempts to have him marry her. After succumbing to a love potion administered by Eggarol, he later finds that he genuinely loves her.
Count Dewayne de Monte Blotto. The arranged fiancé of Eggarol. A prodigal in his mid to late twenties with greasy black hair which he is wont to preen whenever a reflective surface presents itself. He is unintelligent and uncouth and renowned for his rakishness.
Dr. Chicano. A Mexican physician and womanizer. Rather unattractive but successful with women because he employs love potions that he obtains from Tolkien Jew.
Nurse Provocadora. Dr. Chicano’s nurse. Rather attractive and seductive, she also engages in “nighttime work” with Chicano as her pimp.
Tolkien Jew. The “token Jew” of the opera. A chemist cum rabbi who invents a love potion that in reality is more like modern-day Viagra. He disguises himself as a magician who practices qaballistic arts. Also a bit of a womanizer and a comically stereotypical “New York Jew.”
Athos, Porthos, Aramis. Three Musketeers directly out of Dumas, two of whom moonlight as nightwatchmen.
Priest. A Roman Catholic priest.
Maids. Two flightly young ladies who are Eggarol’s personal servants.
Willoughs. The butler with only a few spoken lines. A largely silent figure somewhat reminiscent of Lurch from “The Addams Family.”
Gnome. A character in a gnomish outfit who looks as though he just stepped out of an English garden.
Brünhilde. Viking lady straight out of Wagner. Heavy-set and wearing the quintessential horned helmet.
Grim Reaper. Appears as depicted in all the stereotypes, with long black robe, hood, and scythe.
Chorus & Bridesmaids. Various extras. Two of the bridesmaids are actually Eggarol’s private maids.
Setting: Someplace in Europe, somewhere in time
The parlor of the Severe mansion. Before the curtain rises, Boniface enters in front of the curtain to introduce himself and present a brief background for the setting of the opera. He explains that his mine (whether a salt mine or saltpeter mine is never quite clear) is on the verge of financial ruin, but he has arranged a way to save it: He will marry his daughter Eggarol to Count Dewayne de Monte Blotto, the prodigal son of the local Count Santino. Since Dewayne is a wastrel and totally repulsive, his parents have agreed to pay a million dollars to anyone who will give their daughter to be his bride. The curtain then rises on the parlor of his mansion where we see the butler Willoughs busily featherdusting. Boniface sends Willoughs to fetch Peter Aereophagus from the mine, asking that he bring with him the plans for the mine’s proposed expansion. After Willoughs exits Eggarol enters, and Boniface tells her that he has found a groom for her. She is initially excited about the prospect until she learns that she has been promised to Dewayne, whom she regards as “a fate worse than debt.” Willoughs returns with Peter, and Boniface and Peter begin reviewing the plans. Eggarol explains to the audience that she will never marry Dewayne, but as the wedding is planned for the next day she must find a husband by that evening. Knowing no one suitable, she casts her eyes on Peter and attempts to convince him to marry her. Peter is clearly uninterested as he once had been married but had his wife leave him for a character from another opera. Dewayne later arrives, and when he sees Peter asks who he is. Eggarol has Peter firmly underfoot by this time and announces that he is her fiancé. Peter tries to assure Dewayne that he no such intentions, but Dewayne challenges him to a duel. Despite Dewayne’s renown as a fine swordsman, Peter somehow miraculously disarms him in the fight. Enraged, Dewayne grabs a dueling pistol from the wall and fires, but Eggarol has stepped in front of Peter and takes the bullet meant for him, suffering a belly-button wound. The cry is made, “Is there a belly-button doctor in the house?” Dr. Chicano and Nurse Provocadora advance from the audience. Chicano saves Eggarol’s life, but as she regains consciousness she says she is in need of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Chicano attempts to oblige but is forthrightly slapped. Eggarol explains that only a kiss from Peter will restore her. She grabs Peter and plants a seductive kiss, hoping thus to inspire him to marry her. Boniface and Dewayne pry the couple apart and take Peter outside where they beat him mercilessly. While they are away, Eggarol explains her plight to Chicano and Provocadora. Chicano tells her that what she needs is a love potion which she can obtain from Tolkien Jew, a mystic who lives in the forest. Boniface and Dewayne return and send Chicano and Provocadora outside to tend to Peter. They try to make amends with Eggarol, but she asks them to leave her as she can make no decisions in her present state. They exit, leaving Eggarol alone to muse about her plan to obtain a potion from Tolkien. If she can seduce Peter into marriage, she will then wait until Dewayne has married one of his trollops. She will then discard Peter, freeing herself to marry a proper gentleman.
A forest, with Tolkien Jew’s hut in the background. Eggarol enters the forest near Tolkien Jew’s dwelling, tripping gaily to the hut and calling for Tolkien. He eventually appears amidst a smoke bomb. He is dressed in magical garb complete with pointed hat and a veil over his face. With the smoke and disguise he attempts to frighten Eggarol away. Although frightened at first, she soon tells him to “knock it off” as the smoke is bad for her voice. Once Tolkien recognizes his visitor, he discards his costume, explaining that he only uses these devices to scare away bothersome children who are constantly interrupting his work. Without the costume he is dressed as a “New York Jew.” When Eggarol asks for a love potion, Tolkien explains that he is not really a wizard but a chemist. Nevertheless, he has indeed developed a love potion that he will gladly sell to her. He explains that it will take those who ingest it on flights of fantasy (though “heights of eroticism” might be more accurate) to “Everland.” Because of its composition, it can only be produced in a paste and therefore must be applied to Eggarol’s lips which then must kiss Peter’s in order for it to work its effects. Eggarol inquires whether this won’t also cause the same desires in her, and Tolkien is surprised that she would not want to be equally stimulated. (He does not realize that Eggarol has no actual love for Peter but is merely using him.) She tries to avoid giving away her plan by saying she has strong enough desires as it is. Tolkien then takes more interest in Eggarol and makes a feeble attempt to invite her into his hut. She rebuffs him gently, and he leaves it at that. But he does admit that he has a counteractive chemical that will nullify the potion’s effects on her. He then briefly muses with her about young love, singing the aria “Love Is a Curious Thing.” Eggarol then pays him for his services, and he sends her on her way telling her to enjoy herself. He sings “Meet Him Tonight in Everland” and reenters his hut.
Eggarol’s boudoir, early the next morning. Two maids are making Eggarol’s bed when she enters carrying a box from which she takes a wedding veil. The maids ask whether she has decided to go through with the wedding, and Eggarol explains that she is going through with a wedding, but not the one her father has arranged. She then sends one maid off to fetch Peter and details her scheme to woo him to the other maid. When the maid returns with Peter, the maids busy themselves about the room while Eggarol tries to engage Peter in conversation, asking him to advise her about love. Peter finally reveals his own history with love, telling of his tragic marriage which ended when his bride ran off with a Spanish Moor (she found “l’amour with a Moor”), leaving him alone and desolate. She and her lover moved far away and shared the highest bliss of heaven; but alas, she died, and he now can never again trust a woman or allow himself to fall in love. Eggarol responds with, “Oh, what a doleful tale!” then offers Peter a chocolate. Peter declines, but Eggarol takes a large petit four for herself. She then feigns choking on the chocolate. After making halfhearted attempts to dislodge the petit four, the maids tell Peter that Eggarol’s only hope is for him to suck the chocolate out of her throat. Peter is skeptical, but the maids insist he not quibble but save Eggarol quickly before she dies. He cautiously approaches Eggarol when she suddenly grabs him by the collar and, once more, plants a seductive kiss firmly on his lips. Eggarol and the maids stand triumphantly and await the potion’s effects. Peter becomes delirious and at last asks Eggarol to marry him. Eggarol accepts and whistles, signaling the stagehands to change the scenery to a wedding chapel. The maids quickly add significant appurtenances to Eggarol’s and Peter’s costumes to ready them for a wedding.
A chapel. The scene sets up for a hasty but well-planned ceremony, complete with bridesmaids and full complement of guests (the entire cast sans Grim Reaper). A priest enters and takes his position as the officiator, singing the aria “Marriage.” As the ceremony continues, he asks whether there are any who object to the wedding. Dewayne protests, claiming they have no license. The priest then states that this is heresy and quickly exits. Boniface believes he has successfully thwarted Eggarol’s plan to evade marriage to Dewayne, but Eggarol suddenly remembers that Tolkien is a rabbi and asks him to perform the ceremony. The wedding thus concludes, and the guests celebrate with the chorus “Happy Days” while Boniface sings of his desire for revenge. The scene ends with the Three Musketeers singing “Happy days are here again ... but our opera isn’t done.”
A garden, with a medieval-looking bridal tent. Eggarol emerges from the tent and sings “Who would have thought?” in which she confesses that although her original plan was simply to use Peter as a means of escaping her father’s devious scheme, she realizes after a night of unbridled passion with Peter that she now truly loves him. Peter later emerges from the tent. He too has come to find again true love. He sings a bizarre love song to her which eventually turns into a duet, after which they retire again to the tent.
A park, set with a bench, streetlamp, and shrubbery. Tolkien enters leading Provocadora by the hand, clearly intending to seduce her. Chicano halts them, but he and Tolkien agree on a price for Provocadora’s services. Chicano then sits on the bench counting his money, and Boniface enters with a large jug of poison. He tells Chicano of his plan to lure Peter to a banquet in the couple’s honor where he intends to poison him. Later Peter and Eggarol stroll by, hand in hand, and Boniface pretends that he is over his anger and invites them to a wedding feast in their honor where they will make amends. Peter and Eggarol are reluctant to accept, but Peter finally concludes that it must be a legitimate attempt at reconciliation. Boniface and Chicano exit to prepare for the feast. Eggarol confesses to Peter her fear that Boniface plans something dastardly, but Peter insists that they must attend — though he will be on his guard. They leave, and day turns into night. Two watchmen (two of the Musketeers) appear and have a brief humorous exchange.
The banquet hall at Chez Danton. Boniface is alone in the hall and sings of his anticipated revenge. Soon the guests arrive individually and in small groups as Boniface greets them. Here he explains how Eggarol got her unusual name. When Peter and Eggarol arrive, Boniface announces them and has them engage in a wedding dance. Peter and Eggarol expect a minuet, but the orchestra instead plays a lustful habañera, which the couple dance with great intensity. As the feast continues, Boniface brings forward a platter on which is set a number of goblets. All contain clear white wine except for one which is blood red. He presents the red goblet to Peter who consumes it without hesitation. Immediately Peter feels ill and emits a loud belch, which shocks the guests. He then falls to the floor in obvious pain, and Eggarol realizes he has been poisoned. Amazed that he is not dead already from such a potent concoction, Boniface kneels down to examine Peter. Peter clasps Boniface’s collar and attempts to speak to him but manages only to belch in his face. Boniface falls dead from the fumes. The priest leans down to hear Peter’s last confession, but he is met with the same end. Realizing Peter is dying (and while the Grim Reaper makes his way onto the stage), the guests form a semicircle round him as Eggarol takes his head in her lap. She sings tenderly to him and begs him not to leave her without a final word. Peter manages only to belch the words, “Got any Rolaids?”* which results in killing Eggarol and all the guests standing round. Peter eventually manages to crawl to the edge of the stage where he finally heaves, collapses, and dies. The Grim Reaper then sings the moral of the story, but on attempting to leave, trips on a corpse and falls on his scythe. He too dies. The corpses lie still for a few moments, then one by one begin to stir and awaken. As they “resurrect” and look about questioningly, they ask “What happened?” and “What’s going on?” Finally someone realizes they all have been the victims of some bad wine. Peter is very confused, but at last realizes it has all been a dream — “just like ‘Dallas’,” as someone points out. In fact, Peter and Eggarol have been happily wed with Boniface’s blessing. As the truth dawns, Peter apologizes to the audience for a wasted evening. The cast then gathers in chorus and joyfully sing a reprise of “Everland.”
Opera Website Libretto mp3 Excerpts
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